After pouring through favourable reviews, (albeit dated) and noting that the restaurant had been a Finalist in the Awards for Excellence from 2006- 2009 (Northern Region), we were looking forward to sampling the menu at Saltwater Cafe & Restaurant in Emerald Beach.
We arrived for a late lunch but the restaurant was still quite busy with dinners enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of a sunny Autumn day on the Coffs Coast. The restaurant itself is situated in a modern architecturally designed building overlooking Emerald Beach. It has a very open fresh style, befitting of its location.
Tables on the deck and inside have a perfect view of the surf at Emerald Beach, and there are lounges inside if you plan to stay a while and enjoy the outlook. We were seated on the deck which made the most of the glorious views, and we sat mesmerised for a short time watching the waves roll in.
Our perusal of the wine list yielded a pleasant surprise, it was the most comprehensive selection we have seen on a restaurant menu for quite a time. The individual selection of wines was excellent, obviously, hand picked by a true wine lover. We noted rich reds from the Barossa, whites from the Hunter Valley and all our favourite Pinots from Tasmania.
I settled on the Ninth Island Pinot, it is a personal favourite of mine since our gourmet getaway to Tasmania and my companion chose the Grant Burge Merlot. Grant Burge is one of the larger independent grape growers of the Barossa Valley. Their Merlot is a rich, soft mellow drop which is quite fitting for our laid back demeanour.
At the risk of seeming difficult to please, I was a little disappointed with the sample of wine we were served. It was quite small for $9.50 glass, and mine was a good bit smaller again.
Nevertheless, we relaxed in to savour these wines which we know to be lovely. To our disappointment, the glass and the wine were quite hot, unpleasantly so. It was a mild day of about 23 degrees and the wine itself felt warmer again on my lips, I am guessing the wine was nowhere near the recommended 13 -17 degrees.
We went back to enjoying the view and reading over the menu. We had obviously researched the menu online and we were looking forward to hearing the daily specials, which turned out to be Tempura Soft Shell Crab on Salad Greens with a Plum Chilli Relish and a Snapper with Cherry Tomato Salad. We settled on the Bruschetta, a toasted Ciabatta with Macadamia & Basil Pesto, Avocado, Smoked Salmon,
We settled on the Bruschetta, a toasted Ciabatta with Macadamia & Basil Pesto, Avocado, Smoked Salmon, Vine-ripened Tomatoes, Marinated Goats Fetta, and the Risotto with Mussels, Prawn, Chicken Chorizo and Saffron dressed with Gremolata.
We noticed a few dishes coming out of the kitchen, they were plated nicely, but each meal looked very similar. The first was the tempura prawn which had three battered prawns served with a tiny salad. The next was the Beer Battered Barramundi and Hand cut Chips, Salad and Lemon Aioli, and then came the Tempura Soft Shell Crab. It was like being in a fish and chips shop. We had noted that half the menu was coming out of the fryer, not my idea of a fine dining menu.
When our meal was served I breathed a sigh of relief, my meal was beautiful and fresh, and exactly what I had expected. I glanced over to the Risotto and my jaw dropped. It was rice in tomato soup, it looked dismal. The waitress had explained that the kitchen had run out of Mussels but they hadn’t mentioned that the chef has no idea how to make a risotto. Nor does he know the difference between tomato and saffron. We pulled two whole canned tomatoes out of the broth which had not even been sliced, and the risotto itself was a rather sloppy mess.
My meal was fine, the ingredients were fresh and lovely, if not a little bland. I would have enjoyed a bit more flavour in the dish. It needed a squeeze of lemon or lime, a little garlic, salt and the dill garnish should have been used a little more in the dish as the mouthful I had was gorgeous.
It was a disappointing meal, barely retrieved by the beautiful location and outlook. We had chosen the perfect day to review this restaurant because, in all honesty, it is the view and the atmosphere that make this restaurant what it is. I do have to wonder if the kitchen had been notified in the past when reviewers were sampling the dishes.
The restaurant is open Wednesday – Sunday, lunch menu prices start from $18 to $28 and dinner is from $29 to $37 for mains.